What are Travel Buyers Looking for in 2024?

We take a closer look at insights from the latest ITM Trending Survey

The business travel industry is always on the move. Trends come and go (and often come back again), traveller priorities change, and emerging technology opens new doors that hitherto have remained locked.

Forecasting how the industry might look in the future is therefore more difficult than it might seem. Even the most well-laid-out plans can be derailed amidst the swirling fog of unpredictability that we have become accustomed to as citizens of the world – everything from the outbreak of war to the whims of Mother Nature has the power to change the business travel landscape.

But that’s not to say we can’t make informed predictions about business travel buyers’ decisions as we approach 2024.

A recent survey released by the Institute of Travel Management (ITM) has provided invaluable insight into the priorities and behaviours of the modern travel buyer. The 2024 ITM Trending Survey, with support from American Express Global Business Travel, polled more than 200 of its supplier members, bringing together both buyer and supplier voices for the first time.

In this article, we take a closer look at the survey results and provide an overview of the key learnings which paint a picture of how the future of business travel might look.

ITM logo

What is the ITM Trending Survey?

 

The survey, which was conducted over two weeks at the end of November, sought the views of more than 100 corporate travel buyers, managers and heads of travel, with a mix of global, EMEA, UK and Ireland responsibilities. For the first time, ITM also polled more than 200 supplier members to gain insights into their understanding of buyer priorities, and the challenges facing different sectors.

Online Booking Tools (OBTs)

 

Online Booking Tools (OBTs) are an integral part of what a Travel Management Company (TMC) offers. They are essentially a shopfront for travellers – a tool that empowers individuals to organise flights, book hotels, build travel itineraries, and so much more. Delivered in the guise of mobile apps and online portals, the best Online Booking Tools are user-friendly, flexible to a traveller’s needs, and capable of providing travel data, all of which are crucial in ensuring a journey is as smooth as it can be.

As a component of business travel with so much potential value, there’s no surprise that the further optimisation of booking tools ranked number one in the list of travel buyer priorities in 2024. In fact, according to the statistics, many buyers are dissatisfied with the features of their OBT, including the display of non-GDS content (75% of respondents), capturing off-programme bookings (70%), and the provision of rail content (73%).

Speaking about OBTs, ITM CEO Scott Davies said:

‘What is coming through loud and clear from the buyer perspective is access to full content, and their reliance on OBTs to deliver and fulfil that content. Yet buyers are clearly still facing issues with their OBT, hence OBT optimisation remains as the number one priority.

‘Last year, the reasons were primarily driven by the challenges of managing the return to travel post-Covid; now that has shifted to focus on dissatisfaction with OBTs’ ability to deliver what buyers really need in today’s business travel environment.’

Duty of Care

 

As any TMC or travel booker worth their salt knows, ensuring that a journey complies with obligations of Duty of Care is one of the most important aspects of any business trip. These obligations were cemented by the publishing of the ISO 31030 Travel Risk Management standard in 2021, a global benchmark for businesses seeking to understand and prepare for situations involving risk.

Indeed, a large proportion of respondents to the ITM survey revealed that Duty of Care is one of their top travel priorities in 2024. The suggestion is that travel buyers are keen to build a watertight risk management plan, a need which TMCs can satisfy with the offering of expert advice and guidance about the process.

Acces to Content

 

There are thousands of different ways in which people can get from A to B. The internet is flooded with travel content – there are air fares to compare, hotel rooms to peruse, deals and options and upgrades of all persuasions to consider. It’s enough to give anyone a headache.

TMCs can help buyers and bookers cut through the noise by presenting them with all the content they need, precisely when they need it, completely tailored to their needs.

The value of providing easy-to-access travel content should not be understated. According to the ITM survey, most buyers (75%), said that access to full content, including that from the New Distribution Capacity (NDC), will be the biggest challenge they will face in 2024. More than half (66%) also admitted that they are not confident in having access to the airline content they need in 2024.

 

What Exactly is NDC?

Great content is one of the pillars of our service offering here at Gray Dawes. We firmly believe in empowering our clients with the freedom of choice, giving them everything they need all in one place.

We not only deliver content from recognised travel retail sites such as Booking.com and Expedia, and traditional GDS, we were also early adopters of NDC – indeed, 82% of fares on routes flown by NDC airlines, and a third of what we sell is cheaper than a traditional TMC.

Budget Control

 

Learning how to effectively manage a travel budget is one of the most important skills in a travel booker’s arsenal. It’s not just about knowing how much you have to spend; the most successful business travel programmes are built upon years of knowledge in managing costs to maximise the traveller experience.

Indeed, the ITM survey revealed that suppliers were concerned by rising costs due to inflation and further economic uncertainty in 2024. Respondents revealed that corporate travel budgets are set to be tightened, while there is concern about talent shortages, recruitment, and training new staff.

These concerns are regularly communicated to us too. In an episode of our Travel Talks webinar about the importance of controlling business travel costs, we spoke about the benefits of advance booking, offered advice about negotiating corporate fares, and told of the importance of winning the hearts and minds of business travellers.

Watch Now

Check out our Travel Talks webinar about how to effectively control your corporate travel costs with our very own Chief Commercial Officer, Warren Dix, and David Oates, Group Procurement Officer of Wates’.

Sustainable Travel

 

The looming shadow of climate change and the threat it poses to humanity is an inescapable topic. It comes as no surprise, then, that sustainable travel and environmentally friendly business practices ranked high in the survey of buyer interests.

According to the survey, sustainability requirements were set to increase, with 52% of respondents saying that suppliers should comply with carbon emission reporting – up from 39% at the beginning of 2023.

As such, knowing how best to maintain a sustainable travel programme will undoubtedly be a crucial priority for travel buyers and suppliers in 2024. Get a head-start by checking out our top sustainable travel tips:

In Conclusion

 

The ITM Trending Survey offers a tempting glimpse into the priorities that will shape the decisions of travel buyers and suppliers in 2024.

As highlighted by the survey, the optimisation of Online Booking Tools (OBTs) is one of the most pressing concerns. OBTs face scrutiny for their ability to deliver full content and meet the diverse needs of modern business travellers and dissatisfaction with features underscores the urgency for enhancement in this critical area.

Duty of Care emerges as another paramount focus, reflecting the heightened importance of risk management in the wake of the ISO 31030 Travel Risk Management standard. Travel buyers seek to fortify their risk management plans, relying on Travel Management Companies (TMCs) to provide expert guidance and support.

Access to full content remains a persistent challenge, with buyers expressing a need for comprehensive travel data, including content from the New Distribution Capacity (NDC). Meanwhile, effective budget control emerges as a skill of increasing significance, particularly in the face of rising costs, inflation, and economic uncertainty.

Sustainability takes a prominent position in the priorities of both buyers and suppliers too, reflecting a growing awareness of environmental concerns. The survey indicates an increasing demand for suppliers to comply with carbon emission reporting, signalling a shift towards more sustainable travel practices.

In essence, the ITM survey provides a roadmap for stakeholders in the business travel industry, guiding them towards strategic decisions that align with the evolving needs and expectations of modern travellers. As we approach 2024, the emphasis on technology optimisation, duty of care, content access, budget control, and sustainability underscores the industry’s commitment to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing global landscape.

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